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Climbing Reaching New Heights With Olympic Spot

Shauna Coxsey, Tara Hayes, Matt Cousins and Nathan Phillips. Four names you’re probably not familiar with, but it might not be long before you are. All four are climbers and not just the best in Britain but some of the best in the world. With yesterday’s announcement from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that climbing is to be one of five new sports added to the Olympic programme, they could be set to take Tokyo 2020 by storm.
The progression of climbing from a sport regarded for eccentrics and adventurers to one on the fringes of mainstream consciousness has been swift. Yet the reasons behind its incredible growth are as diverse as the sport itself and the IOC’s decision could be another leap forward.

Entering the Mainstream

Arguably it was two climbers, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, who pushed climbing into the spotlight like never before, with their historic free climb of Yosemite’s El Capitan last year. Their epic 19 day ascent of the 3,000 metre Dawn Wall, drew media attention from around the world and made stars (if only reluctantly) of Caldwell and Jorgeson. Whilst the media’s gaze was only fleeting, it gave a unique look at a sport that has slowly been taking off around the world, particularly in the UK.According to the British Mountaineering Council the number of climbing walls in the UK has risen by over 100 in the last five years alone, with 350 public access walls listed in the BMC wall directory. The increase in walls is driven largely by an uptake of young people joining the sport, with the number of people taking part in the BMC Youth Climbing Series rising by 50% over the same period.

Technology, Technology, Technology

So the sport is a clearly a growing force but why and how has it become so, and more interestingly, how far can it go? The simple answer is technology. As with so many extreme sports new technology has allowed climbing to grow through improved equipment, providing a safer and more complete experience of a sport that inherently carries risk – without removing the thrill. Sport climbing is itself a descendant of the introduction of technology. Permanent anchors are secured to the rock face from which climbers can place protection to ensure survival from even the most eye watering falls.

The shift may appear to be a natural progression from the days of Royal Robbins placing steel pitons into the Yosemite cliffs, but the effect has been more wide-ranging. The improvements in rope, harnesses and other climbing gear has allowed the very best climbers to push the limits of what’s possible. The dynamic and occasionally terrifying nature of these new challenges has opened up the sport of climbing to a new thrill seeking audience, one that is looking to not only participate but create and consume as much content about the sport itself as possible.

Climbing Content

In 2006 film makers Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer created the first Reel Rock film tour, taking a collection of short climbing films to live audiences all around the world. Now in its 11th year the tour has been a huge success and attracts sponsors such as The North Face, National Geographic and Petzl, highlighting the growing appetite for climbing content. It appears the sport has become as much about capturing the ascent, as the ascent itself. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

It’s a question that a number of companies and brands are already looking to answer. Epic TV has been quick to provide a channel for the new band of climbers wishing to share their latest exploits, earning them not just an audience but an opportunity to create their own brand with which to attract sponsorship and turn professional. Climbers such as Alex Honnold and Sean McColl regularly share not just their climbing achievements, but their training regimes and other aspects of their lifestyle that hold as much interest to fans as the climbing.

So the sport is growing, with new stars, increasing brand presence and a highly engaged audience mostly made up of Generation Z and Millennials - surely then a place in the Olympics would be a positive next step for a sport on the rise? Yet there remain concerns, including those from professional climbers such as Adam Ondra, who feels the expected format of the competition may need to be amended to reward the more aesthetic aspects of the sport. It’s a concern that isn’t exclusive to climbing, with the much publicised trouble surrounding golf at this summer’s games proving that format is a difficult area to get right for even the biggest of mainstream sports.

Where Next?

Regardless of the concerns around format, it’s clear that climbing is entering another stage of its development and a place in the Olympics will act as validation to the thousands who compete in and watch the sport worldwide. It won’t be long before brands outside the outdoor and adventure space take notice and names such as Coxsey, Hayes, Cousins and Phillips move from the unknown to the everyday.

Bands, Brands & Fans – It’s all about getting closer…

A few years ago, we witnessed the start of some major changes in the music industry, with traditional revenues from record sales taking a big blow due to an increase in piracy. This coincided with the general public’s perceived value of music diminishing with the record labels continuing to exploit their assets with very short term targets in mind, licensing music for the likes of cover-mounts to the media industry, earning income, spiking sales for newspapers and magazines but further reducing the consumer’s perception around the value of music (which was ultimately being offered to them for free).

Some high profile artists benefited from this at the time, including the likes of Prince who released his ‘Planet Earth’ album exclusively via The Mail on Sunday. This earned Prince substantial revenues. It provided marketing for his 21-night performance at The O2, London and sold a lot of newspapers, so many would argue was a big success. It did, however, contribute towards the longer-term psychological perception amongst the consumer that music has been devalued.

It was at this point that I started to understand the fact that it was the job of both artists and the labels surrounding them to start re-thinking about how to add value back to the album format and demonstrate a reason for the consumer to continue purchasing in the future. It feels natural for artists and their labels to start packaging all of their assets into one deliverable (an app) with the aim of connecting with their fans on a deeper level, owning a bigger part of the relationship with them. The depth of relationship between artists and fans for me has always been the key to success.The rise of Spotify, followed by the multitude of other streaming businesses then created a distraction, tackled piracy and actually incentivised consumer spend, albeit reduced. The real value in music today, however, is primarily in the live business (concerts), but there are various attempts taking place to breathe life back into music beyond just experiential.

It seems the subject matter of how artists and their labels should be pumping value back into their product is heating up. Clearly, deepening the relationship with their fans seems to be becoming more understood amongst artists, with a number of technology players now moving into this space. Until now there has been little focus in the media about this, with most still focused on the battle of the streaming businesses (Spotify, Apple, Google, Deezer, Amazon etc).

If a fan wants to know what Beyoncé wore last night, they check Instagram. If a fan wants to know where Ed Sheeran is performing next, they check Twitter (as long as he’s not decided to take a ‘time out’). If a fan wants to know what Ariana Grande has been up to today, they are likely to watch her Snapchat story. Social Media has brought artists and fans closer together than ever before. It has solidified the artist and fan relationship, offering access never previously seen before. These relationships via social networks offer the ability for artists (and their partners) to promote themselves, sell music, tickets and merchandise. It also provides instant feedback whether it be about newly released music or any other promotional activities. Importantly, it is this relationship, combined with artist-generated content (music, film, games, etc) that can be extremely attractive and powerful.

When Björk launched ‘Biophilia’ a few years ago, she offered her fans an entire suite of content – much more than just music. She successfully continued to build that ever-so-important connection with her fans, giving them much more than they expected, with lots to talk about and engage with.

Since then, a number of artists have attempted to enter this space. A few businesses from the tech world have also moved into the ‘Artist & Fan’ relationship space – their approach being to enhance the overall fan experience, whilst providing insight and learnings about their fans back to the artists and their representatives.

These start-ups include the likes of: Gigrev, Lionshare Media and Disciple Media. BuddyBounce was another great business very much in this space, recently selling to Crowdmix which was due for launch later this year but unfortunately went into administration earlier this month, prior to its official launch. Additionally, Supapass is a new multi-artist platform that has recently come onto the scene, offering not just single artist relationships but the opportunity for fans to engage with a multitude of their favourite artists. An interesting one to watch…

The idea is that fans subscribe to an artist/label channel (costing approx £1 per month). The artists and their rightsholders then earn a substantial % of the revenue share from their fan subscriptions. One generally finds with fan-based marketing that there is always a top-tier core fan who will traditionally spend on artist product and this will specifically appeal to those. By offering multi-artist content, SupaPass are spreading the risk and potentially offering greater impact for the platform. It feels like it makes sense.

It is these artist-to-consumer platforms that will not only ensure continued growth and depth of relationship between artists and their fans, but could also potentially offer a very interesting space for brands to engage. According to the Cassandra Report, Millennials, in particular, expect brands to offer more than just their product or service, and if a brand can be seen to be offering a closer relationship between fans and an artist, the credibility and love for that brand could very easily dramatically improve. Additionally, the learnings and data available could really help not only the artist, but also brands, understand how to interact and behave with these fans, potentially offering a three-way win-win(-win) symbiotic relationship for band, brand and fan.

To conclude, the music industry is continuing to change rapidly. There are no rules and an array of interesting opportunities for brands (as well as artists) to tap into, offering previously impossible access to potentially long-term relationships with fans. The ‘Artist & Fan’ relationship is the ‘Holy Grail’ within the music industry. For a brand to be a critical part of that could be an extremely powerful space to occupy.

Making the Most of the eSports Opportunity

From left to right: James Dean from ESL UK, Jonathan Hall from Gfinity & Chris Mead from Twitch

This year’s The Telegraph Business in Sport gave a significant share of the agenda and discussion to the rise of eSports and how brands, agencies and rightsholders can make sense of the commercial opportunities it is creating.

Miles Jacobson of Sports Interactive (creator of the Football Manager franchise) moderated a panel of eSports heavy-hitters.

It was an animated (pun intended) discussion with three key themes at its core:

1. Community

The belief that typical eSports fans are ‘nerdy’ and antisocial is a misconception. The eSports audience is inherently social. They are Millenials. They are digitally native. They are fluent in communicating via digital channels.

Community lies at the heart of eSports. Players and fans typically play one or two games – key titles include Counterstrike, League of Legends and DOTA 2 – and form tight-knit communities based on both playing and watching these games. Fans also come together to consume eSports via streaming sites such as Twitch, a platform which attracts more than 100 million viewers a month, and participate in discussion with like-minded fans in real-time.

Community has played a huge part in building professional eSports teams, identifying elite players and bringing them together to compete as a team. The size of that eSports community has helped fund the lucrative cash prizes on offer at international tournaments around the world. As an example, last year’s The International 2 tournament offered an incredible $18m as part of the prize pool on offer to the best DOTA 2 players.

2. Awareness & Commercialisation

The commercialisation of eSports is helping the sport become increasingly mainstream.

Sports clubs have begun to sponsor individual players and eSports teams. West Ham recently became the first UK sports club to sponsor an eSports player, while Besiktas and Schalke each have their own League of Legends team.

The live experience is also proving popular among eSports fans, with League of Legends tournaments selling out huge venues such as The SSE Wembley Arena and the Staples Center.

Mainstream broadcasters have been begun embracing eSports too. In March, Sky Sports became the first channel to air an eSports tournament by showing this season’s FIFA Interactive World Cup.

3. The Challenge for Sponsors

The current sponsorship landscape is dominated by ‘endemic’ brands that provide the peripherals and hardware that the games are played on.

Brands such as Corsair and Razer are well-established brands that have a long legacy in eSports with numerous successful teams around the world.

For non-endemic brands, gaining an understanding of the relatively new world of eSports is not without its challenges.

But these challenges present opportunities.

Despite the rapid ascent of eSports into mainstream consciousness and huge audiences, the category is yet to sculpt a clear commercial proposition for potential sponsors. Given the fragmented marketplace, comprising multiple publishers, games, events and so on, brands new to the game would have to work hard to understand and then profit from eSports sponsorship. But, if they do, this complexity could also give that sponsor more leeway to carve out a unique eSports proposition.

eSports as an industry will only continue to grow and the opportunities for a brave brand to make their mark are plentiful. If a brand wants to make the most of the opportunities that eSports have to offer, it is vitally important that they go into any partnership with their eyes open. As awarenesss and knowledge of eSports continues to grow. I am in no doubt that it will become a major category in the sponsorship marketplace. Which brands will be first to take advantage?

Millennials’ no.2 passion point is music… So why are you making an ad?

We spend more of our time listening to music than we do watching TV. So why are marketers still so reliant on TV and so few using music as a marketing platform?

Whilst there’s a lot of negative press about the ‘decline’ and ‘downturn’ of the music industry, with artists and labels witnessing a fall in revenue, behind the headlines it’s anything but bad news. The introduction of streaming and the shift of artists’ focus from record sales to live means that more music is being consumed than ever before.

IFPI (which represents the global recording industry) recently published their annual report outlining a total growth of 3.2% to $15.0 billion for recorded music, partly due to a 45% streaming growth with subscription revenue (excluding revenue from some services’ free tiers) jumping $58.9 million to $2 billion, with subscribers growing 66% to 68 million.

The Album Equivalent Sales (AES) industry metric, which measures the volume of music sales combined with streamed audio continues to rise – from the last numbers released, these are up 3.7% from 117.2m albums in 2014 to 121.6m in 2015 in the UK. And the retail value of the UK recorded music market is up 3.5% to £1.06bn in 2015, from the previous year’s £1.02bn.

Whilst we’re always-on, always-connected, we’ve also never been more into the visceral, immersive, analogue experience of a live show. QED: LiveNation, the largest live entertainment company in the world, just posted a record year in 2015, with revenues up 11% to $7.6 billion.

The Nielsen annual Music 360° report shows that 93% of the American population listens to music, spending more than 25 hours each week ‘jamming out’ to their favourite tunes. In fact, 75% of Americans say they actively choose to listen to music, which is more than they claim to actively choose to watch TV (73%). According to The Cassandra Report (from our Engine Group sister agency, Deep Focus), what U.S. Millennials aged 14-34 share online are: 1) Pictures 57%, 2) Music 43%, 3) Videos 43%, 4) Status updates 38%, 5) Jokes 32%, 6) News articles 28%, 7) Memes 25%, 8) GIFs 21%. Clearly the reason why Facebook recently introduced ‘Music Stories’ its music sharing capability, is to deal with the #2 most shared commodity – Music.

So we spend more of our time listening to music than we do watching TV and share more music than videos. So why are marketers still so addicted to TV ads, when it’s way more likely that their target market is listening to music – especially the world’s two billion Millennials, for whom music is one of the main passion points?

Having personally spent many years talking to senior marketers across many blue-chip brands of the world, one tends to hear similar needs from them all – usually including the need for passion, emotion, connectivity with a demographic and, of course, shareable/viral content. Music is content and comes pre-loaded with all of the above. The lyrics are storytelling and the melody engaging on an emotional level – music can make you laugh and cry…and everything in between.

Music is one of the most shared and recommended commodities online. It’s the most spoken about social conversation, and it fuels the biggest social media sites out there. It simply isn’t being used efficiently and effectively by most brands. Nor is it fully understood. The issue brands have is that active involvement in music is perceived to be both complex and costly – not helped by the traditional historical approach of the music industry, who have seen brands as a cash-cow.

Many brands have had painful experiences and traditionally ROI has been low due to the tactical, one-off approach many brands have adopted. Additionally, with the array of rostered agencies surrounding brands, there has often not been a custodian of the brand in place responsible for controlling the ‘sound of the brand’. The ad agency creating a film for an ad is generally tasked with thinking about what piece of music might bring the film they create to life from a creative standpoint, not always with planning at the heart. Putting it in a brand campaign is only one tiny part of how a brand can use music, yet this is still what many brand marketers consider as ‘being involved in music’. For what really being ‘involved in music’ should look like, brands should take a leaf out of the sports marketers’ playbook – a playbook that at its best eschews tactical one-offs in favour of long-term partnerships with events, teams and athletes.

What is so different in music? Why is there is there so little long-term, platform-based planning going into music and entertainment? Take Red Bull as an example. Dietrich Mateschitz’s love and belief for extreme sports has led the business to truly ‘own’ that space, to the point of becoming a major owner of extreme sports content. Why not take Red Bull’s best practice approach to sports and apply it to music? When will marketers talking about ‘content being king’ start taking music on-board on a more serious basis as part of their content strategy?

Brands that get this right will find themselves embedded at a deeper, emotive and instinctual level with their audiences. Surely music to any marketing director’s ears…

We discussed Millennials and the power of music as part of brands’ marketing strategy at our Synergy Entertainment event, ‘Talkin’ About A Revolution’, which was held at Spotify HQ, London in April. Our panel included Emmy Lovell (VP Digital, Warner Music), Joey Swarbrick (Manager Rizzle Kicks), Lisa Buchan (Director Music & Culture at Monster Energy), Mark Sutherland (Editor of Music Week), Simon Burke-Kennedy (Manager of Professor Green) and Tom Kitchen (Spotify). The event was a huge success and edits from the panel will be posted shortly.

For any further information about Synergy Entertainment and how we help brands navigate and deliver solutions in music, please contact: arnon.woolfson@synergy.global